Captains for Clean Water gains support for science-based solutions to save the Everglades.

More than 350 fishermen, outdoorsmen and concerned citizens gathered at the Historic Burroughs Home in Fort Myers on March 3 for the inaugural “Restore Clean Water Gala.” Fishing legends and TV personalities, including Blair Wiggins, George Gozdz, Rob Fordyce, Peter Miller and Carter Andrews were on hand to show their support for cleaning up Florida’s estuaries. Host of TV’s “Flats Class” C.A Richardson emceed the event, and Zac Jud, Ph.D. motivated the overflowing crowd with his explanation of the challenges and possible solutions to the manmade problems that degrade water quality in South Florida. When event organizer Sawyer Smith asked for financial assistance, the response was overwhelming with pledges totaling more than $300,000.

Captains for Clean Water co-founder Capt. Daniel Andrews said “We are extremely grateful to everyone who came to the Restore Clean Water Gala to champion a cause that means so much to all of us. We are truly humbled by the support we received. It was an inspiring night, and we cannot thank our supporters enough.”

Co-founder Capt. Chris Whitman said, “Habitat loss from decades of water mismanagement has Florida’s most prized fishing areas on life support; from the lakes of central Florida all the way to Florida Bay, anglers are the canaries in the coal mine and we have joined together to protect our industry which represents well over a $9 billion contribution to Florida’s economy”

Captains for Clean Water also works to unite stakeholders by finding common ground to fight for clean water and to promote long-term, science-based solutions to the South Florida water crisis.

Captains for Clean Water is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that advocates for healthy marine ecosystems in  Florida by improving water quality.  CFCW was formed under a year ago when a group of fishing guides from Fort Myers decided they had enough of Florida’s poor water management practices and it was time to stand up and protect their livelihood and way of life for future generations. Through education, awareness, and taking their authentic message to our elected officials, waters that have been compromised by years of mismanagement can be restored and Florida’s estuaries can be preserved.

In the face of large scale propaganda campaigns funded by outside special interests, Captains for Clean Water is working to educate and inform Floridians about this extremely important issue. All funds raised are used to help Floridians better understand this critically important issue and the scientifically supported solutions available to our state.

Photos from Florida Weekly:

https://www.facebook.com/pg/fortmyersfloridaweekly/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1152703228171679

You are Never too Young to Learn about the World Around You

Last week, Capt. Chris Wittman and Wyler Gins of Captains for Clean Water had the opportunity to educate 80 second graders at Heights Elementary, in Fort Myers, FL. After learning about the water issues in Florida from their teacher, the students were very interested. They wanted to learn more to better understand the problems facing their own local waterways. Intrigued by their interest, their teacher reached out to Captains for Clean Water and asked them to come in and talk to the students.

Chris and Wyler began their presentation explaining the historic flow of water through the Everglades by showing an old map of Florida. The students were fascinated and some even knew about how the Everglades cleaned the water as the water flowed south. When asked what was the biggest difference between the water in the Keys and the water in Fort Myers, many kids raised their hands, all having the same answer. “The water is so clear in the Keys!” Many of the students had questions about why the water in their back yard isn’t as clear as the Keys. They also wondered why their parents have been telling them they can’t swim in the Caloosahatchee River anymore.

Once explaining the importance of the Everglades in keeping South Florida’s water clean and healthy, the Captains explained the major changes made to Florida’s hydrology in the past century. The draining, damming and diking of the Everglades changed the water flows throughout the state, which caused great harm to all of the estuaries in South Florida. With the eagerness to understand, the students were ready to become involved. The Captains presented a challenge to the students. They were given a map, a few crayons, and the direction to draw or explain a solution to this issue. They colored in the historic Everglades, showing how the water needs to flow south. The second graders’ ability to understand the problem and solution shows how fundamentally simple it is to fix our water crisis.

After a few more discussions, one group of students raised their hands to ask about the animals and how this affects them. The students drew fish, manatees, alligators, birds and many other species. They made the connection that without clean, healthy water, the animals wouldn’t be healthy either.

Chris and Wyler explained how it would cost a lot of money to fix a problem this big. The students did not understand. They wanted to know why they wouldn’t “Just fix it”, since the problem impacts so many people. Talan, an eight-year-old, stood up and wanted to voice his thoughts. He said, “It makes me sad that people are poisoning the water and the habitats that so many animals and plants depend on to live!” He went on- “It isn’t all about money! Who cares about money. We don’t even really need it. We just need to clean our water!” 

For the sake of these kids, and future generations, it is our responsibility to fight to protect our estuaries. Restoring the Everglades is an investment in our future, and our kids’ future. Help us make a difference!

Fast-Track EAA Reservoir to Save Our Estuaries

Last week, Senator Bradley filed a bill to purchase 60,000 acres of land in the Everglades Agricultural Area to construct a dynamic reservoir to alleviate discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers, and provide desperately needed water supply to Florida Bay. This essential component of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project (CERP) has been talked about, and postponed for most of my life, while our estuaries have steadily declined, creeping closer and closer to their tipping point.

The current approach to Everglades restoration by our water managers is not working. CERP was passed 17 years ago, and the estuaries of South Florida are continuing to decline rapidly. I would argue that they’re declining faster now than they were 17 years ago when CERP was passed. Up until this point, the focus of Everglades restoration has been on ancillary projects that do not address the root of the problem- the River of Grass has been dammed and diverted by way of manmade canals to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers. Until we address the root of the problem, our community and economy will continue to suffer. This approach reminds me of the saying “The surgery was a success, but the patient died.” That’s what I see happening with our estuaries and the Everglades. I’ve seen so many presentations on the success of Everglades restoration, but just last year Florida Bay experienced a 50,000 acre seagrass die-off due to lack of freshwater flow, the St. Lucie was covered in toxic green algae, and the Caloosahatchee was bombed by high volume, unnatural discharges. Our “patient” is having a heart attack, and our team of doctors are treating the patient for arthritis.

I made my first trip to Tallahassee one year ago with my good friend, and co-founder of Captains for Clean Water, Capt. Chris Wittman. After meeting with scientists at FGCU and Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, we were prepared to sit down with our policymakers to help them understand our concerns. When we parked our trucks and headed toward the Capitol building, Chris looked at me and said “You know there’s a serious problem when we’re wearing suits in Tallahassee.” We didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into- that we would end up dedicating so much of our time to this. But we promised each other, and promised all of the guides, businesses and families in South Florida that we were going to get this problem fixed. We weren’t going to give up- no matter what.

This is a contentious issue in Tallahassee. There are powerful interests that benefit from the current water management system. We weren’t intimidated by the swarms of lobbyists racing through the hallways of the Capitol. They are getting paid to fight for something that doesn’t directly affect their lives, but we are fighting for something we love. The corporate sugar industry has hired 64 lobbyists to oppose this project that is vital to saving Florida’s estuaries. We don’t have the money to hire any lobbyists, but we do have the passion, good will, and the power of the people needed to make this essential project happen.

That being said, I don’t think there is time for finger pointing, we need to move forward and prioritize projects that will seriously make a difference to stop the discharges, rehydrate the Everglades and Florida Bay, and provide increased flood protection to the Glades communities. That’s why we’re supporting Senate Bill 10. The vast majority of the independent science community believes this project is essential to alleviating the discharges and saving Florida Bay. It’s not my job to analyze the political climate in Tallahassee and work within the agendas of the politicians. My passion and moral responsibility is to help save our estuaries that provide incalculable benefits to our economy, community and way of life. 

While projects can look appealing on paper, in presentations and from a helicopter, I always ask “What percent better will this make our estuary?” The timer is ticking for our estuaries, and the price of land and construction will only go up. I’m all for completing existing projects, but Component G of CERP (SB10), which would alleviate Lake Okeechobee discharges by up to 50%, is essential, and without it the estuaries and economies they support will continue to wither away.

Sincerely,

Capt. Daniel Andrews
President, Co-Founder

Captains for Clean Water commends Senator Rob Bradley for filling SB10!

Captains for Clean water is proud to announce the Filing of Florida Senate Bill 10 designed to reduce harmful Lake Okeechobee discharges and provide needed water to the Everglades and Florida Bay.

After testifying before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources yesterday we were extremely excited to see the quick response from Senator Rob Bradley that addressed many of our concerns. Committee Chair Rob Bradley noted that the “current projects fail to include one significant component that the majority of scientists and experts uniformly agree on – a long-term solution that requires additional land and storage south of Lake Okeechobee.”

Senate Bill 10 authorizes bonding a portion of proceeds from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund, set aside by the voter-approved Water and Land Conservation Amendment (Amendment 1, 2014), to purchase land and construct a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to reduce harmful discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.

SB10 would add a new section to the Florida Statutes authorizing a Reservoir project in the Everglades Agricultural Area; this project has the intent of creating 360,000 acre-feet of water storage capacity along with the acquisition of 60,000 acres of land from willing sellers. This proposed reservoir is expected to hold approximately 120 billion gallons of water and would be dynamic in nature meaning that as soon as the existing storm water treatment areas are ready to accept additional water, more water would be moved into this reservoir that would also supply a much needed source of water in times of drought to the often parched Everglades and Florida Bay.

The estimated cost of a reservoir is expected to total roughly $2.4 billion. With the federal government paying at least half of the cost of such a reservoir, the state’s commitment would be $1.2 billion. The bill authorizes the annual use of approximately $100 million of documentary stamp tax revenue set aside by Amendment 1, approved by voters in 2014, over the next 20 years to finance the plan.

The bill directs the South Florida Water Management District to begin the formal process of purchasing land from willing sellers and operates under the 2000 Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, a partnership between the state and federal government.

Senate President Joe Negron stated “For nearly two decades, there has been scientific consensus and recognition by state leaders that additional water storage south of Lake Okeechobee is necessary to stop this ongoing problem; from Governor Jeb Bush’s historic support of the bipartisan Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan in 2000; to the recent University of Florida Water Institute study commissioned by the Senate and completed in 2015,” continued President Negron. “This legislation provides a clear plan to address this plague on our communities in a manner that respects the interests of the agricultural community and private land owners.”

According to the bill, If the SFWMD is unable to identify sellers of land appropriate for a reservoir through an open solicitation by the end of 2017, the legislation authorizes the Board of Trustees to exercise the option with U.S. Sugar entered into in 2010 to buy 153,000 acres of land in the Everglades Agricultural Area, for the purpose of securing the 60,000 acres necessary for the reservoir and to begin the planning the construction of the needed reservoir.

The bill goes on to state that if the State is ultimately unable to purchase land for the reservoir by November 30, 2018, the legislation increases the ongoing Legacy Florida appropriation by an additional $50 million for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, which includes a reservoir in the Everglades Agricultural Area as a key component.

Please make sure to join us in Tallahassee on April 11th, 2017 for the  NowOrNeverglades Sportfishing Day and remind our elected officials about the importance that our industry has to our State’s economy and overall quality of life: https://www.facebook.com/events/793871580765898/

A full text of the bill can be seen here: http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2017/0010/BillText/Filed/PDF

Official Press release: http://www.flsenate.gov/Media/PressReleases/Show/2621

 

Sincerely,

Capt. Daniel Andrews
President, Co-Founder

Back to Tallahassee!

On Wednesday morning, Co-Founders of Captains for Clean Water Capt. Daniel Andrews and Capt. Chris Wittman traveled to Tallahassee for the second time this month to speak to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources. Along with Chris and Daniel was James Evans, the Director of Natural Resources for Sanibel Island, David Schulendfrei, Past President of the Sanibel-Captiva Realtors Association, and Chris Davison, VP and General Manager of Island Inn and Board Member of the Sanibel-Captiva Chamber of Commerce. We each got to speak and show our support for Senator Negron’s plan to purchase EAA land to construct the critical EAA Reservoir project. After the committee hearing on the Lake Okeechobee and Everglades issues, Daniel and Chris met with several key legislators to stress the importance of a long term solution to our water crisis. Read the important message sent to the Florida Legislature by the founders of Captains for Clean Water below.

To The Florida Legislature:

I am a 25 year old Fort Myers native, and co-founder of Captains for Clean Water. I grew up fishing the waters surrounding Fort Myers and Sanibel with my family, and walked away from a full scholarship to Florida Gulf Coast University to pursue my dreams as a full time fishing guide. As a small business owner, I fully depend on the health of the estuaries to make a living. The future of my business- and the future of the $25 billion fishing and boating industry in Florida are directly tied to the water quality in our estuaries.

No matter how you look at it- we have a serious problem. The Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers are in long term decline due to massive, unnatural discharges of freshwater from Lake Okeechobee. Meanwhile, Florida Bay, located at the southern tip of the Everglades, is dying because it isn’t getting enough freshwater. When God designed this magnificent ecosystem- he had it right. We’ve disrupted the natural flow of water through the state, and inflicted harm upon the estuaries for decades. It is our responsibility, and in our best interest to move forward with projects that will make meaningful differences to our estuaries for the sake of our economy and quality of life.

Looking at graphs and charts of our water conditions can be confusing, and at times boring. But sitting on an 18 foot boat all day with a client who is paying upwards of a thousand dollars for a day of fishing is nothing short of frustrating when we are trying to fish barren sand flats that used to be covered in seagrass and oyster beds filled with fish and other marine life. My clients often come to Florida for the first time on a fishing trip, and end up buying houses, and starting businesses in the area. They spend money at hotels, restaurants, and retail stores in the area.

We are faced with a dilemma: Everglades restoration is a multifaceted effort, and our estuaries are withering away at an alarming rate. It is imperative that we prioritize projects that will do the most to alleviate discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers, while at the same time providing clean freshwater for the Everglades. Increased storage, treatment and conveyance of water from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades is essential to solving our water crisis. Senator Negron’s plan to construct a 60,000 acre reservoir in the Everglades Agricultural Area needs to be at the very top of Everglades restoration projects. It simply can’t happen fast enough.

As fishing guides in South Florida, we are the “canaries in the coal mine”, and the canaries are dying. If we continue to allow our estuaries to wither away, our economy will collapse. That is why Captains for Clean Water quickly gained the support of the leading corporations in the fishing industry such as Yeti Coolers, Orvis, Simms, Patagonia, Mustad Hooks, Costa Sunglasses, SeaDek and many others. They’re counting on us to keep Florida the Fishing Capital of the World.

Sincerely,

Capt. Daniel Andrews
President, Co-Founder

WE NEED YOUR HELP IN TALLAHASSEE!!

First Tallahassee Trip of 2017!

On Wednesday, January 11th, we made a trip to Tallahassee for the first Senate subcommittee meeting on the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee discharges. Captain Daniel Andrews, co-founder of Captains for Clean Water was joined by James Evans, Director of Natural Resources for the City of Sanibel, Chris Davison, General Manager of Island Inn, and Board Member for the Sanibel – Captiva Chamber of Commerce, and David Schuldenfrei, Past President of the Sanibel & Captiva Realtors Association.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources, chaired by Senator Rob Bradley, heard presentations by scientists, the US Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District. Chairman Bradley identified two problems that they intended two address- the excess freshwater flows to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers, as well as the lack of freshwater flow to the Everglades and Florida Bay.

Dr. Wendy Graham of the UF Water Institute and Dr. Gary Goforth both highlighted the need for massive amounts of storage throughout the Greater Everglades system. Dr. Wendy Graham’s presentation showed it is possible to reduce the harmful discharges by about 80-90% by adding ~1 million acre feet of storage in the system. Dr. Goforth highlighted the advantages of storage south of Lake Okeechobee. Dr. Goforth explained that storage south of the lake is dynamic. Reservoirs temporarily store water which is then sent to Stormwater Treatment Areas where the water is cleaned then sent to the Everglades. Conversely, northern storage is finite. Once the reservoir is full, the water has to go into Lake Okeechobee where it will be discharged to the rivers. Also, reservoir to the north of the lake does not provide the Everglades with desperately needed freshwater.

Lt. Colonel Jennifer Reynolds of the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACOE) gave a presentation on the Army Corp’s responsibilities for the restoration of the Everglades. Lt. Colonel Reynolds stated that the USACOE would be interested in expediting the planning of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) storage project, provided there was state and federal funding, and they had a state partner, which would be the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD). Currently, planning for the EAA storage project is slated to begin in 2021. Pete Antonacci of the SFWMD spoke, but did not say whether the SFWMD was willing to expedite the EAA storage project. At one point he deferred to chairman Bradley, saying the district does what it is told to do by the Legislature, with funding provided by the Legislature.

Our presence at the meeting was noted by several senators on the committee. It is critically important for our cause to be represented throughout the entire legislative process. Presence in these meetings, as well as meeting with legislators is very important. We will be back and forth to the Capitol throughout the legislative session. 2017 is shaping up to be a big year for us in Tallahassee. Senate President Joe Negron’s number one priority is the purchase of ~60,000 acres of land south of Lake Okeechobee to build the EAA reservoir.

If you are interested in joining us on a trip to Tallahassee, please send us an email. A trip to the Capitol is worth hundreds of phone calls and emails.

Special thanks to Associates & Bruce L. Scheiner for providing us a flight to Tallahassee. We wouldn’t have been able to make it without your support!

Opportunity for Recovery

As the rain subsides and our waters begin to clear, many Florida residents will breathe a sigh of relief. But for those of us who make our living on the water, we will continue to suffer from the lasting effects of the man-made Lake Okeechobee discharges into our estuaries. The Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries suffered immensely this year. Large areas of seagrass and oyster beds died as a result of sustained, high volume freshwater discharges into the estuaries. To many folks, seagrass and oysters may not be a glamorous subject, but they are the foundation of our estuary and yield an immense economic benefit to Florida’s economy. All of our marine species, from the fish we eat to the dolphins and birds that attract tourists and entertain our residents, depend on healthy estuaries. Unfortunately, these oyster and seagrass beds do not regrow overnight- it takes years of proper management to repair the damage inflicted by mere weeks of high volume freshwater discharges. 

In the words of a good friend, Magnus Gunnarson, “Nature is resilient- but we have to give it opportunities.” Magnus is the VP of Mustad Hooks- the largest fishing hook manufacturer in the world. Mustad, along with dozens of other multi-million dollar companies who make a substantial amount of money as a result of a healthy marine environment are very concerned about the issues facing Florida’s waterways. Our state’s estuaries have been in a long term decline, threatening Florida’s $9.3 billion fishing industry. Mustad is not alone, we have gained the support of dozens of leading outdoor corporations including YETI, Costa Sunglasses, Simms, Seadek and many others.

Incoming Florida Senate President Joe Negron has made it his priority for the next legislative session to plan and fund additional water storage projects south of Lake Okeechobee. This is the opportunity our estuaries need to rebound from decades of mismanagement. Senator Negron has proposed buying approximately 60,000 acres of agricultural land south of the lake to create a reservoir that would be used to store excess water so that it can be cleaned and conveyed south into the Everglades and Florida Bay where it is desperately needed. The restoration of the Everglades is a multifaceted effort, and increased storage, treatment and southern conveyance of water from Lake Okeechobee is essential to alleviating the harmful discharges into the coastal estuaries. There are many projects south of the lake at various stages of completion, including the Central Everglades Planning Process (CEPP), Restoration Strategies, Modified Water Deliveries to Everglades National Park, and increased bridging of the Tamiami Trail. These projects are designed to overcome the current obstacles to sending water south, and will not be utilized to their full potential unless we have sufficient water storage, such as through Senator Negron’s proposed reservoir, in the Everglades Agricultural Area, to provide a constant supply of freshwater to Florida Bay.

Sadly, 2016 was a rough year for water in Florida. Florida Bay experienced a massive seagrass die-off due to lack of freshwater flow, while the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers experienced damaging discharges killing seagrass and oysters due to excessive freshwater flows. People are outraged, and now Senator Negron is giving us an opportunity to be part of a science based solution to help save the Florida that we all know and love. Science, common sense, and a duty to our children tell us that we need to restore the flow of clean, freshwater to the Everglades where it belongs. We are excited and optimistic that our policymakers will listen to the indisputable science and do what’s best for Florida and our economy. Sign the #NowOrNeverglades Declaration and become a member of our organization. The fishing industry represents only a fraction of the affected businesses in Florida. If you care about the future of Florida should consider joining  Captains for Clean Water. We need your support today to fight for clean water and healthy estuaries. 

Our First Few Months

When we founded Captains for Clean Water in February 2016, we had no idea how quickly it would grow. Initially, we didn’t plan on incorporating as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization; to be honest, we didn’t know what those numbers and letters even meant. We did know was that there was a need in the community to have us share our experiences on the water and educate folks on what is happening to our estuaries with the hope of creating positive change. Captains for Clean Water has grown from a small group of concerned fishing guides to a well established nonprofit that engages all walks of life. Given the positive impact that our organization has already had in such a short time, we remain motivated and can proudly say “We’re here to stay!”

As fishing guides, we depend entirely on the health of the estuary to put food on the table, provide for our families, and satisfy our customers with lifelong memories from a productive day on Florida’s waters. During high volume Lake Okeechobee discharges, others may just see brown water while crossing a bridge on their way to work, but we see the brown water as extra hours spent in the mornings struggling to catch bait along with additional time and fuel expended to travel greater distances (away from the river) to catch fish. When we wake up hours before dawn to prepare for charters there is plenty of solitary time to wonder “Will my clients return if we don’t catch any fish?”, “Even if we catch fish will my client come back to our area if our day was spent surrounded by murky, dark water?”, “Will we still have jobs in twenty years?” “Are politicians in Tallahassee and water managers working as hard as they should be to save our dying estuaries?” Some of these questions are tough to answer, except the last one. After diving deeper into our water problems, it has become abundantly clear that we need more political will to save Florida’s estuaries. Some of the proposed solutions won’t even be implemented for decades as we are forced to watch our estuaries continue to die. Our livelihoods cannot wait as politicians continue to argue about political solutions to a situation that needs science-based solutions; we need to accelerate and expand projects today that will alleviate discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers, while also providing Florida Bay and the Biscayne aquifer with desperately needed freshwater.

As fishing guides, we depend on our natural resources to make a living; because of this we feel it is our responsibility to preserve our state’s estuaries so that we can safely pass on our skills and create lasting memories with our children. Doing so is not possible by just picking up trash, or restoring a few mangroves and oyster bars. Our estuaries are grossly mismanaged and it will take large scale change in policy and an increase of political will in Tallahassee and DC; we are excited to be a leading voice in this “sea-grass roots” effort to save our estuaries.

As we enter the dry season, our waters may start to clear up, some folks will even become complacent, but those of us who are on the water day in and day out will continue to see firsthand the lasting damage caused by the Lake Okeechobee discharges as well as the lack of flow reaching Florida Bay. As “simple fishing guides”, we can’t afford to match the tens of millions of dollars put into the political system by the large scale corporate polluters. But we can continue to organize, polish, learn, and grow our authentic messaging to educate the public on the issues and solutions to our water problems, and we can continue to engage individuals, businesses and other organizations affected by the mismanagement of Florida’s water resources. 

Captains for Clean Water has grown from a small group of fishing guides out of Punta Rassa, FL to a respected and leading organization in the fight to save our estuaries and restore America’s Everglades. Our organization continues to grow far beyond captains and fishermen. We have engaged waterfront homeowners, business owners and hoteliers and many others across South Florida- even partnering with giants in the marine and tackle industries such as SeaDek Marine Nonskid and Mustad Hooks.

We look forward to continuing to spread our message but we need your help. Consider making a tax exempt donation to Captains for Clean Water as an investment in Florida’s estuaries.

Photo by Katy Danca Galli

Clean Water Essential to Florida’s $15.3 Billion Marine Industry

The Sunshine State is a boating paradise, providing boaters with year round opportunities to fish, ski and spend time with friends and family on the water. The marine industry is also an important part of Florida’s economy, representing a $15.3 billion economic impact in 2015, according to a recent report by the Marine Industries of Florida. Healthy estuaries are the most critical component of the clean, safe, and vibrant waters which keep marine industry customers coming back to enjoy yet another beautiful day on our waters.  

The marine industry is a key job provider for Florida- representing 183,800 jobs in 2015. These jobs include boat sales, manufacturing, mechanics and many others. These are good, fulfilling, jobs with benefits that help provide Florida residents and visitors access to the state’s most valuable resource- clean water. Most marine industry employees sought out jobs in this industry as it allowed them to work in an area they loved and they are often the first on the water, even on their days off.

While some customers make marine industry purchases just to enjoy a day on the water, island hopping or visiting their favorite sand bar, others make purchases as a result of their love for fishing. Fishing has a $9.3 billion annual economic impact in Florida and is closely tied to the marine industry. There is no doubt that fishing requires healthy estuaries and the marine industry as a whole is no different. People come to Florida so they can enjoy our waters.

Unfortunately, Florida’s estuaries are slowly dying as a result of alterations to the state’s natural watersheds. Ever since the diking and draining of the Everglades began over a century ago, water that historically flowed south from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay is now diverted east and west into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers. This causes harmful and unnatural discharges of nutrient and sediment laden freshwater to the rivers, while starving the Everglades of desperately needed freshwater. Even if you are not a scientist and haven’t studied the harmful impact these sediment laden waters have on our seagrass you may be able to relate to your time spent scrubbing brown stains from the waterline of a boat that has spent any time in south Florida’s coastal estuaries. In addition to leaving a stain on your fiberglass, disrupting natural freshwater flows into an estuary harms seagrass, fish and other marine life. Florida Bay recently experienced a 40,000 acre seagrass die-off that began in the summer of 2015 as a result of decreased flows to the estuary; at the same time the excess fresh water on the East and West coast caused seagrass to die from too much dark, fresh water.

The solution to the problems Florida’s estuaries are facing is fundamentally simple: restore freshwater flows to the Everglades and Florida Bay. Unfortunately, many of Florida’s policymakers and water managers do not see the value of clean water and healthy estuaries as we do, because they do not rely on it the same way we do. It is our responsibility to tell our policymakers what is at stake as it relates to our economy and way of life.

Captains for Clean Water is a 501(c)3 organization that unites various user groups to educate the public and advocate for meaningful restoration of America’s Everglades. Do your part by signing the #NowOrNeverglades Declaration, and learning more about the issue on our website.

water quality - Everglades

Conservation in Perspective

Many folks have a hard time understanding “conservation” due to the scale of the issues. They take nature for granted, and assume that they have been given unlimited supply of resources at their disposal. Looking back at old black and white fishing photos that show stringers full of trophy fish, sometimes even our beloved tarpon hanging next to grinning anglers, can be sickening. But they also teach us a lesson. In that era, there was a seemingly endless supply of gamefish, superb water quality and bountiful estuaries. Today, our fish stocks are threatened by water quality issues and dying estuaries.

Imagine you own a pond and had a business renting fishing gear to guests. You attract visitors from nearby areas. Customers rent gear from you, buy bait and go fishing. Business is great, you have many prosperous years. Eventually, a factory pops up next to your pond and they begin to dump wastewater into your pond because they didn’t want to spend the money to create their own treatment plant, and reservoir to hold the water. Water quality in your pond degrades. The aquatic plants begin to die, and the fish become unhealthy. Eventually some of the fish die. You immediately recognize the problem, and get to work as it is in your best interest to fix it.

Your business is no longer sustainable. Fish are dying faster than they can reproduce. People quit coming to your pond to fish because they’re not having fun. It doesn’t matter how much you regulate anglers, or how much you spend on advertising to get new anglers out to your pond if the root of the problem is not addressed. If the problem is ignored, your pond will eventually become a cesspool, void of life. Once the pond reaches it’s tipping point, your business is done, for good.

Replanting the pond won’t do any good, because wastewater continues to flow in from the factory and kills the newly planted vegetation. You start buying fish and releasing them into the pond for people to catch, but they too will get sick and die. You need to fix the problem before you replant the pond, and stock it with fish. Eventually, you work with the factory to create a wastewater treatment facility, and put the water into their own reservoir that they created. At this point, you proceed with the restoration of your pond, you replant it and restock it with fish. Finally, your business is flourishing again, and you no longer take the pond for granted.

This analogy is no different than what we are dealing with in South Florida, and many other places across the world. Water quality directly affects the health of the estuaries. When water quality suffers, our estuaries die, effectively shrinking “our pond.” Our estuaries are reaching their tipping point, and eventually we will cross that line, if the root of the problem is not addressed. It is not only in our best interest, it is also our responsibility to fight to protect the resources we depend on. The draining of the Everglades is our metaphorical factory. Special interest groups, namely large corporate agricultural interests located in the historic Everglades, spend tens of millions of dollars spreading misinformation about these issues, in hopes of distracting the public from the biggest problem- the sugarcane fields that stand in the way of meaningful restoration. Reservoirs and treatment marshes need to be constructed on agricultural land to store, treat and convey water to the Everglades where it is desperately needed. Fixing this problem does not have to be a struggle between the coastal communities and Glades communities. In fact, having a third outlet would provide the Army Corps of Engineers a way to lower the level of Lake Okeechobee when the integrity of the Herbert Hoover Dike is threatened, therefore providing Glades communities with improved flood control. Scientists that work in the Everglades agree on what needs to happen, it’s our job to listen to the undisputed science, and convince our policymakers to do the right thing.

Everybody can make a difference

When dealing with large scale issues, such as Everglades restoration, some people think their voice isn’t loud enough to be heard, and they don’t believe they can make a difference. I thought that too, less than a year ago, but I was terribly wrong. I finally reached my tipping point, and helped found Captains for Clean Water. We quickly grew it into a powerful organization. Captains for Clean Water has influence over policy relating to water quality in South Florida, and the ability to reach several million people per month. We have a growing network of local, state and federal lawmakers, businesses in the fishing, tourism and boating industries all ready to make a difference. Together we are becoming more powerful every day. This growing success didn’t come easily. I put my guiding business on hold; giving away well over a hundred charters this year, and relying on personal savings to pay my bills while many of our board members are finding themselves is a similar situation. Captains for Clean Water is more than a full time job, it requires complete commitment from all of us. We have been incredibly successful because we truly care about this issue. These estuaries are far too valuable to just sit back and watch them fade away.

Learn more about the water quality issues facing the Everglades and South Florida